As the old proverb goes, all good things must come to an end.
Although I’ve been handing in a steady stream of reviews for several months,Ronin on Empty has only been intermittently updated as my schedule permits. After an extended hiatus due to my father’s passing, I attempted to resume steady “publication” last month for a little while, but aside from an April Fools’ Joke a couple weeks ago, this blog has remained conspicuously inactive since March 12th. And there is a good reason for that.
It has been a little over two months since my dad passed away. Following this sudden, tragic, and life-altering loss came numerous and ever-mounting challenges for both myself and my family. I won’t go into the sad details of the event or the disappointing, troubling issues that emerged in the wake of this experience, but I will say that this has been — without a doubt — the worst time of my life. To paraphrase Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, I feel like somebody has taken the lid off life and let me look at the works.
For all these reasons and more, I have decided it’s time to leave LoveHKFilm.com after almost nine years of writing for the site.
Were you disappointed by All’s Well That’s Ends Well 2011? Or underwhelmed by Mr. and Mrs. Incredible? Or maybe you just weren’t feeling the love for I Love Hong Kong? Well, if you weren’t too enthused by the latest crop of Lunar New Year comedies released in 2011, Hong Kong studio heads are ready to make it up to you this summer with a batch of buzzworthy, big budget blockbusters sure to do boffo box office! Say that three times fast! And after you’re through digesting inane E! channel-speak, check out my top summer picks after the break…
While searching for trailers to add to my more recent blog posts, I stumbled upon this ad from a few years back. It features Stephen Chow and some of the Shaolin Soccer crew pimping the Philippines-made beer, San Miguel. The commercial is by no means new, but it made me chuckle, so I thought I’d share it. I figured that for a majority of our Western and non-HK based readership, it’d be new to them.
There hasn’t been a lot to smile about in the news lately. So, here’s 44 seconds of frivolity for you to enjoy before we return to more important concerns.
Before I proceed with an in-depth discussion of Princess D, a 2002 film directed by Sylvia Chang and Alan Yuen, I need to mention a far less entertaining American film I recently viewed. For reasons too boring to explain, I had the distinct displeasure of watching Did You Hear About the Morgans?, a 2009 romantic comedy starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant. The film was impossibly bad, as the two actors seemed to be operating solely on auto-pilot — with SJP (as I’m told she’s called) channeling an only slightly modified version of her Sex and the City character and Hugh Grant recycling that stammering, excessively blinking English gent character he’s been using since the early 1990s. Not only did the two actors possess zero chemistry, but they were unable to convey in any way, shape, or form that their characters did love, do love, or even will love each other by the time the end credits rolled.
My purpose of this extended digression is merely to emphasize just how vital chemistry is to the success of a romantic film. Casting popular actors with toothy grins and throwing them in a few comic situations cannot make up one iota for the lack of genuine sparks between characters. Princess D does not suffer from this same problem, although it’s far from a perfect film. It is by no means one of the Great Films of Hong Kong cinema, but it’s not a total disaster either despite tanking at the HK box office. Instead, I find it to be both an effective and affecting romantic drama, despite its flaws.
Just the other day, it occurred to me that 1990s era Stephen Chow films are a lot like eating at McDonald’s. To those of you out there who despise Ray Kroc’s ubiquitous fast food franchise, my comparison may sound like I’m criticizing the most prolific period of the famous comedian’s acting career. But I’m not. This may come as a shock to my more health-conscious, organic-only, vegetarian-meet-vegan friends, but I actually like eating at McDonald’s…on occasion. Yeah, it ain’t fine dining, and it’s certainly not good for you, but if prepared right, it sure can be really, really comforting.
Now, if you’re someone who frequents this eating establishment, then you’re aware that 99% of the time you know exactly what to expect from your order — whatever the quality, there will be no real surprises. In the hands of a particularly efficient and conscientious staff, your food will taste fantastic, complete with crisp, perfectly salted fries and an extraordinarily refreshing ice cold Coca Cola to wash ‘em down with. In the hands of a lazy, incompetent group of workers, however, you’re likely to be stuck with soggy, bland fries and some seriously watered down soft drinks. The meal is the same, but the taste can differ, depending on who’s preparing the food.
I think the same can be said of Stephen Chow’s prolific film output during the 1990s. You’ll get exactly what you’re looking for in most of his films from that era, but — depending on the filmmakers involved — the final product will vary in quality. His movies may not always be high art and some may indeed be the cinematic equivalent to “empty calories,” but when all is said and done, I think Chow’s comedy stylings amount to nothing less than comfort food for the soul.
“To me, ultimately martial arts means honestly expressing yourself.”
So says Bruce Lee in archival footage shown in John Little’s documentary film Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey. And if anything, A Warrior’s Journey is an honest, heartfelt expression of love for the legendary martial artist. Aside from the narrator’s awkward pronunciation of “gung fu” and the less than inspired dubbing performances by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Ji Han Jae for the reassembled Game of Death footage, the dedication put forth by the filmmakers really shines through.
Skip the fictionalized bio Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, and instead take a look at this John Little documentary. While you’re at it, don’t bother watching Game of Death anymore either. This film contains 41 minutes of lost footage showing the master in action, edited together based on Bruce Lee’s own notes. You can read my full review of the film here.
Since Bruce Lee: The Legendis included as the bonus fifth disc in 20th Century Fox’s now out-of-print “Master Collection” boxset, the film must be worth at least a look, right? Generally speaking, the movie does a good job of tracing Bruce Lee’s life, mainly in the form of career highlights that showcase his early stints on American television shows (in The Green Hornet and Longstreet) on up to his eventual ascension to cross-cultural superstardom through his Hong Kong movies in the early 1970s.
Overall, I found this American version* of the Golden Harvest-produced bio Bruce Lee: The Legend to be a decent, occasionally daring biography of the man nicknamed “Little Dragon.” You can read my LoveHKFilm.com review of this documentary here. Under the cut, check out the opening minutes of the film, which includes footage of Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain with Brigitte Lin!